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A Central European Vacation, Twenty-Plus Years Later

Ellen Levitt

Posted on July 7, 2019 10:22

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I recently visited Prague and Budapest with my younger daughter. I'd visited both cities in the mid-1990s, and I took note of how each city has changed.

My younger teen and I just returned from a nearly two-week vacation in Central Europe, visiting Prague and Budapest. She had not visited either city before, but I had in the mid-1990s. When I first visited Prague, it seemed like a mysterious city, still dealing fractiously with its break from Communism. I travelled to Budapest a few years later. My initial impression was that it was a Central European Paris.

These perceptions were clocked by a naïve New Yorker, backpacking solo and on the cheap in far-away lands. I roomed in crowded youth hostels, walked nearly everywhere, and got by on a few words of German. I enjoyed my jaunts, and was often confused by customs and directions.

This time, I travelled with my daughter and we stayed in hotels with air conditioning. My feet are not as hearty as they were in the 1990s and communism now a key part of museum exhibits. Times have changed and so have I. I wondered how much I would remember when we traversed each city. 

We began in Prague, and I was struck by the heat! It was actually cooler in New York. The cobble stoned streets seemed endless this time around, so we did hop on the trams more frequently. Some things certainly seemed ageless, such as the delightful Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge with its heavy statues, the Prague Castle complex, and certainly the Jewish Cemetery and the synagogues surrounding it.

But a few changes I noticed quickly were the higher prices, hearing much more English (and slang too), and seeing many souvenir shops and high end stores. I wasn't surprised that the city had become more commercial and worldly. There were more tourists, and they spoke a wide variety of languages. 

We took a train to Budapest and immediately noticed how much bigger and spread out it was in comparison to Prague.  We spent our first full day at the legendary Gellert Thermal Baths, paddling (and lounging) around in pools, warm baths, steam rooms, and a sauna. We also got sunburnt here, underestimating the sun's power. Afterwards, we did several of other touristy things, such as visiting the Castle District, the Dohanyi Street Synagogue and Jewish Museum, the National Gallery, riding the funicular, and more.

We never opened our umbrellas, and I regretted not packing more shorts. But we had a wonderful time, aside from one bout with food poisoning. Also, my daughter met up with a sleep away camp friend who happened to be in Budapest as well!

I didn't expect either city to be exactly the same as when I'd first visited. Certain aspects do seem to be forever museum-like (especially in Prague), and Budapest now has four subway train lines. I was a bit taken aback by the grit-gloss dichotomy apparent in each city (and many buildings throughout could use power washes). Change was the byword, indeed.

Ellen Levitt

Posted on July 7, 2019 10:22

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